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Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Water Increase Coming

Additional revenue will pay for operating expenses

As the city of Shreveport moves forward with increasing water and sewer rates, Mayor Tom Arceneaux and the Shreveport City Council also are working to mitigate the impact of the rate increase for some water customers.

The council unanimously approved a 10 percent increase in water and sewer rates at its meeting March 12. The additional revenue raised will pay for the water and sewer’s operating expenses and meet the bond covenants established when the city last sold utility and revenue bonds.

Arceneaux said residential water customers should begin seeing the rate increase on bills beginning April 1

“People should see their total water and sewer bill go up a little less than 10 percent,” Arceneaux said. “There are a couple of charges on there that are not subject to the 10 percent (increase). There’s $1 for safe water drinking, and there’s 50 cents for security, and there’s $7 for garbage, and those are not included in the 10 percent. Mine, for example, goes up about 9 percent.”

Before the vote, council members discussed changes Arceneaux proposed to the Shreveport Water Assistance Program, which is assistance designed to help residents with their water bills.

“The council, I feel certain, will adopt the SWAP changes that we made,” Arceneaux said. “I believe that will happen, and it will happen the way we proposed it.”

The discussion surrounded an element of Arceneaux’s plan that would have made United Way the sole administrator of SWAP. Previously, two nonprofit organizations — Caddo Community Action Agency and Socialization Services Inc. — have run the program.

“The council wants us to include the two social service agencies that were doing work under the old SWAP program, and we agreed to do that as a compromise with the council,” the mayor said.

The goal is to streamline the process and expand the number of residents who qualify for SWAP.

Arceneaux said there are a few ways residents can automatically qualify for SWAP benefits. Certain credentials, such as a SNAP card, qualify residents for an automatic 10 percent credit on their water bills to offset the rate increase.

Arceneaux said expanding qualifications for SWAP required more oversight.

“Basically, if your household is in 130 percent of the poverty level and below, you will be qualified,” he said. “But that requires tax returns; it requires a little bit more administration. United Way will administer that and make those determinations.”

The mayor said United Way’s involvement will make that part of the process smoother for everyone.

“We will pay United Way, and United Way will pay us the amount of the credits,” he said. “We end up paying ourselves with our own money. But it avoids some constitutional issues and allows us to issue those credits.”

Caddo Community Action Agency and Socialization Services will continue to work with residents who automatically qualify for SWAP, Arceneaux said.

Arceneaux expressed his appreciation to Chief Administrative Officer Tom Dark, the Water and Sewerage Department, the council and the agencies involved for their commitment to the program.

“Great praise to the water and sewer team and to Tom Dark for coming up with a way to do that,” he said. “I feel comfortable that we are helping our lowest-income citizens who are water customers by doing this. We recognize that water service is a regressive item. The lower your income, the higher the percentage of your income you pay for water. We have people for whom the increase is a difficulty, and we wanted to acknowledge that and see if we could do something about it. I’m pretty pleased about that.”

In related news, the city also resolved concerns about over-billing in the water department.

“That review had been in the works for several weeks, mainly because I had questions about my own sewer bill,” Arceneaux said. “I raised those questions. I thought, ‘If it affects me, it probably affects some other people.’ I had asked the water department to analyze it.”

That analysis showed issues with estimated billing during the winter of 2022-23. A city ordinance dictated that those estimates were based on 6,000 gallons’ usage. Officials determine that estimate would be detrimental to customers, so the water department recalculated those bills based on the previous year’s usage.

“The results of that were about 30,000 people had no change,” Arceneaux said. “For about 18,000 customers, it actually worked to their benefit in that we wound up undercharging pursuant to the ordinance. And then there were about 10,000 customers that we overcharged, most of them under $50. Having discovered that, we decided we would issue credits to those whom we overcharged. Those are going out with the March bills.”

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